Canvas: New Commons Favourites button in Rich Content Editor

What is Canvas Commons?

Canvas Commons is a repository or resources and activities that you can draw upon to use in your Canvas module sites. Commons contains learning objects that other Canvas users, both at the University of Sussex and other institutions, have created and shared for wider use. You can use keywords and to apply various filters when searching to help you find resources relevant to you. You can choose to filter resources by content type (Assignments, Discussions, Images, Pages, Quizzes, etc.), level of study and who the content is ‘Shared with’ enabling you to view resources created only at the University of Sussex should you want to.

Screenshot of Canvas Commons including a search bar for keywords, a filter button and links to University of Sussex School Canvas templates.
Screenshot of Canvas Commons including a search bar for keywords, a filter button and links to University of Sussex School Canvas templates.

Commons Favourites

Within Commons you can choose to ‘favourite’ individual learning objects to provide quick access to these resources later on. To add something to your favourites first go to Commons by clicking the Commons button in the Global Navigation Menu on the left of your screen (you may have to allow Commons access to your Canvas account the first time you use it). Next locate and access your chosen resource, then click the ‘Add to favourites’ button on the right hand side of the screen. You can then access all of your ‘favourited’ items at a later date by returning to Commons and clicking Favourites at the top of the page.

Screenshot of an example user's Canvas Commons Favorites page showing a search bar for keywords, a filter button and links to example favourited resources such as images, quizzes and documents.
Screenshot of an example user’s Canvas Commons Favorites page showing a search bar for keywords, a filter button and links to example favourited resources such as images, quizzes and documents.

To learn more about Canvas Commons Favourites see How do I add and manage Favourites in Commons?

Commons Favourites in the Rich Content Editor

The new Commons Favourites button in the Rich Content Editor allows you to quickly access and import your favourite resources and activities straight from Commons without having to navigate away from the module you are editing.

Screenshot of the Canvas Rich Content Editor with the Commons Favorites button highlighted.
Screenshot of the Canvas Rich Content Editor with the Commons Favorites button highlighted.

The Rich Content Editor is used almost anywhere that you can edit text in Canvas. So whether you are editing a Canvas Page or creating for example a new Discussion or Quiz, you can always access your Commons Favourites. The Commons Favourites button supports the importing of documents, videos, audio recordings, and images. Click the button and then either browse all of your saved elements or use the search function to search for keywords or filter by resource type. Then simply click on the element that you want to use and it will be imported into the content that you are currently editing. Depending on the size of the learning object, this can take a couple of minutes. For a step-by-step guide see How do I import Commons Favourites in the Rich Content Editor in Canvas?

Screenshot of a Canvas Page being edited with the Commons Favorite pop-out window highlighted.
Screenshot of a Canvas Page being edited with the Commons Favorite pop-out window highlighted.

Don’t forget that you can also share your own resources and activities to Canvas Commons if you have created any learning objects that you would like to share with your colleagues or the wider Canvas Community. If you would like more information about Canvas Commons see the Canvas Community Instructor Guides which contain FAQs and step-by-step guides. The University of Sussex is using Canvas Commons to share School modules templates, if you would like help importing and using your School’s template please contact or visit our Eventbrite to see if there is a support session for your School.

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Making your Canvas modules accessible

Universal Accessibility Icon: The icon depicts a person with arms outspread
Universal Access” by Font Awesome is licensed under CC BY 4.0

If you’ve attended any TEL training recently, you’ll have heard us mention digital accessibility. This means making sure online teaching materials are usable for students with disabilities or specific learning needs. This year sees the introduction of new legislation governing accessibility of websites and mobile applications for publicly funded institutions, including universities, so it’s important to make sure that the digital content of our modules meet the necessary requirements.

As mentioned in our previous blog post we’ve developed some guidance to help you make your module sites accessible. I’d encourage you to look at these. In this post I’ll present a suggested workflow for making sure your module is accessible.

I’ll look at a typical module, based around a number of Canvas pages, including a homepage and several topic pages, one for each week. These pages include text, pictures and one or two videos. The module also includes links to PowerPoint slides, handouts in Word and PDF format and a reading list.

Step 1. Check the checklist

Before you start, it is a good idea to get a basic idea of what to look out for. We’ve summarised this in four key design principles:

  • Structure your content
  • Provide text alternatives for video, audio and images
  • Use of colour
  • Use descriptive text in links and headings

These principles apply across all of the formats mentioned above (Canvas, Word, PDF…).  You can read more about these on our accessibility Create page. To make things easier, we’ve created a list of Do’s and Don’ts to check.

If this all sounds alien to you, the good news is that we’ve made sure these principles are baked-in to your School module templates. So as long as you use your school template you shouldn’t have to worry about the main module home page, assignment information and weekly/topic pages (if the template includes them).

Step 2. Review additional Canvas pages, Word documents and PDFs

For content beyond the core template pages the key thing to be concerned about is the structure. Alternative (alt) text for images (and for Canvas pages, colour contrast) should be picked-up using an accessibility checker which we’ll come to in a bit.

Applying a Heading 1 style to the main document heading.
Structure your content with headings in Word

Word, PowerPoint and PDF checkers won’t test for appropriate colour contrast but if you keep to the combinations used in the templates you should be fine.

If you have the choice, PDFs should be avoided. They don’t adapt well to different screen sizes and if you don’t keep the source document they can be hard to edit and to make accessible. 

Step 3. Provide text alternatives for video

If you’re using video I have some good news. Box of Broadcasts, Kanopy, YouTube, and our upcoming lecture capture system, Panopto, provide either subtitles or closed captions for most video they host.  With the latter two, these are auto-generated and can require a little tweaking to get them correct. You will not be expected to manually correct subtitles unless explicitly requested by students on a per video basis.

Step 4. Use an online reading list

Next we come to reading lists and there is more good news. Provided you follow the processes recommended by the Library, you shouldn’t need to do anything extra.

All reading for your module should be passed via the Library reading list. The Library will then ensure the readings are accessible.  

Step 5. Run an accessibility check

There are built-in accessibility checkers in Canvas, Word, PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat (for PDFs). The better the accessibility of the original document, the better these will work, so like a spell check, this is best done last.

A couple of points to bear in mind:

  1. Not all images require alternative (alt) text. If an image is purely decorative the alt text can be left blank. Canvas allows you to tick a box to declare the image is decorative.
  2. There is a degree of personal judgement required. Accessibility checkers won’t tell you something is definitely inaccessible. They will just suggest things that look problematic. 
PowerPoint, Word and Excel have inbuilt accessibility checkers

Accessible design benefits everyone

Hopefully I’ve persuaded you that this is not as onerous as it may originally have sounded. If you still find yourself asking why you need to do this now when you don’t know of any students with disabilities or specific learning needs on your module, I have a few last points to mention:

Not all students who have accessibility needs will present themselves to you and while you may not have someone this year you may well the next.

You gain too. Accessible design is just good design which benefits everyone. Have you ever been sitting in a noisy room or on a quiet train without headphones and wanted to watch a short video but it didn’t have subtitles? Have you spent time searching through a Word document trying to make all the headings look the same, or spent precious minutes picking-out headings to put together a table of contents? Have you spent ages zooming in and out of a PDF document on your phone trying to read the tiny text? Have you spent three clicks too many looking for the “click here” which takes you to the page you want to see? Have you used an app to read-out a web page to you to give tired eyes a break? I could go on.

If you have any further questions or concerns please contact and we’ll do our best to help.

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Getting ready for September with TEL

Summer is here, but before we know it students will be arriving to begin the 2019-20 academic year. Before then, teaching staff will want to prepare their Canvas modules and related materials. To support staff during this process Technology Enhanced Learning have created two new sets of resources and are arranging face-to-face sessions. This post will give an idea of what is available.

Rollover – copying module content from year to year.

New, empty Canvas sites for 19-20 were created and made available to staff on 10th June. People teaching new modules can now start building their sites, but for most modules, convenors will want to copy at least some content from the 18-19 version. Most Schools now also have a module template which staff may be using for the first time. These have been introduced in response to student requests for greater consistency between modules.

On the TEL website we now have a Canvas Rollover page which provides step-by-step guidance on the process.

Screenshot of the Canvas Rollover webpage
Screenshot of the Canvas Rollover webpage

The Learning Technologists in the TEL team are also contacting the Schools they work with to offer sessions where colleagues can get together to work on their sites with help on hand. If you would like to be included in any workshops for your School please contact

Accessibility – an improved learning environment for all

Accessibility has always been an important consideration when reviewing, updating and creating online materials, but with the new accessibility requirements for public sector bodies coming into effect this is now a legal requirement.

Digital Accessibility web pages have been added to the TEL website, offering guidance on how best to provide an improved learning environment for all.

The guidance is presented in 4 sections:

  • Create – looks at structuring content, providing alternatives, using colour and descriptive text. There is also a downloadable checklist poster.
  • Check – shows how to check the accessibility of Pages in Canvas; Microsoft Word documents and PowerPoints; PDFs; Google documents and slides; Apple Keynote and Pages files.
  • Tools – looks at some tools which can be used to support students with specific learning differences.
  • Needs – provides some examples of the types of challenges that students may face depending on their individual needs, with links to find out how to improve resources accordingly.

New activities

As we move into the second year of Canvas at Sussex, colleagues are starting to think about how they might use some of the additional functionality of the platform. When planning modules for the coming year don’t forget that Canvas offers:

The above blog posts introduce each of these options but as always, the TEL team are very happy to discuss how they (or other tools) might be used.

Where can I get more help?

The TEL team is here to support teaching staff as they prepare module sites and materials, so if you have a question or want to discuss options please contact

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TEL:US Podcast with Dr Maren Deepwell, Mary Krell and Dr Tamsin Hinton-Smith

Dan Axson and Kitty Horne caught up with Dr Maren Deepwell, CEO of ALT, Mary Agnes Krell, Senior Lecturer in Media and Film Studies and Dr Tamsin Hinton-Smith, Senior Lecturer in Higher Education. We talk about all things technology, learning technology, favorite shortcuts and apps we couldn’t live without. We also discuss their formative technology experiences, how technology and equality are an embedded aspect of the PGCertHE and how the learning technology landscape has changed over the last 12 years.

A note on audio (again…). I couldn’t mic everyone, so I thought I had enough coverage with the two table top mics and a Blue Snowball, however I forgot to press record on the iPad (for the Snowball) so apologies to Kitty, who has a very quiet audio as a result.

How it was made.

  1. Two standard table top mics into Zoom H4n
  2. Blue Snowball into iPad
  3. Forgot to press go on iPad for the Snowball (Sorry Kitty)
  4. Salvage audio in Adobe Audition
  5. Record Intro and Outro with Table top mics into Zoom H4n
  6. Build show in GarageBand
  7. Export to
  8. Run through for Transcript
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The organisational tools I rely on

When you hit your bed at night do you sometimes feel that you haven’t achieved what you hoped to? If so, you may be helped by using online organisational tools. When many of us start a project, big or small, we often start by writing lists, but writing and lists are linear and our thoughts aren’t. Consequently using alternatives to text and lists can increase our productivity. The common feature of my favourite organisational tools is that they are non-linear and visual and this helps us formulate our thinking and plan our time. That is why in the TEL team we use organizational tools to help us run our day and to be more productive.

Let me start with an example. Writing this blog post was not the only thing I needed to do today. There were a number of other competing tasks. However with the help of a project management board I am able to timetable and prioritise this task. Today, writing this blog post was at the top of the agenda.

Example Trello board from

Having prioritised this blog post as my top task for the day, the first thing I did was to draw a mind map of the things I wanted to say in the post. I had a host of ideas but how could they be organised? I used a second organisational tool that helps me organise my day-to-day work life – a mind map. Mind maps can be a paper exercise but there are several n big advantages to using computer-based tools.

Mind map (using the free drawing app

It is important at this point for me to note that the tools this post introduces will be of interest to you but the same organisational tools will be of use to students. It is a good idea to introduce tools like this to your students because they can help them organise lecture notes, organise their thinking and they are a great way of getting started on an essay. Furthermore there are some important accessibility barriers that these tools help students overcome, making your teaching more inclusive to all students whatever their background or circumstances.

Introducing Trello

Trello is project management software that we have mentioned before. I have a number of boards on Trello including the high stakes projects I am working on and the day-to-day management of tasks including email responses and so on.  Depending on the type of project on which I am working the board may be collaborative with other team members or private to me.

In my opinion thes greatest strengths of Trello are its usability and its flexibility. Trello is highly featured but it is also simple to use. It allows you to easily and quickly visualise the tasks you and others in your team are engaged with and their current status.

You have a row of column titles that can be whatever what. In my day-to-day planner, they include stalled tasks, pending tasks, active tasks, awaiting review and ongoing  tasks. The cards can have:

  • labels indicating the type of task they represent
  • a checklist of things that need to be met before completing the task
  • a due date
  • attached files

You can create a Trello card from an email just by forwarding the email to the special email address provided for each board.

Cards can easily be moved from column to column – for example in my day-to-day planner I can move a task from pending to active by simply dragging the card to the new column.

Trello can be useful to you as a professional but it can also be very useful for students who can use it to be more effective at planning and organising their study and personal time. This blog post provides examples of how Trello can also be used in the classroom.

Introducing MindView

Mind mapping is a useful activity to me because I can throw down ideas as they come, in whatever order. An important element of the mind map is that I can easily move these ideas about because once I have included everything I can think of I start to categorize and structure them into an intelligible plan or argument.That is where using post-it notes or software is better than using pen and paper where the representation of ideas can become fixed.

MindView is great because it is easy to drag and drop items and make a hierarchy of connected ideas. It is easy to make MindView visual as you you can easily add pictures from its own stock of images, from the web or from your own collections. It is easy to grab text from different sources and pull them into your mindmap. Furthermore, it’s easy to order your ideas and give an estimation of how long they will take.

All these features make it an extremely useful tool, but its real strength over other mind mapping software is its ability to convert the thinking that has gone into creating the mindmap and ordering the ideas into the next stage of the project. For example you can switch your view of your ideas into a Gantt chart. Perhaps the most useful thing you can do though is convert your mind map into a Word document or Powerpoint so your ideas can easily become the start of an essay or report., and you don’t need to throw away or rewrite your thinking.

Mindview mind map can be viewed as a Gantt chart or exported into a Word document.


The beauty of organisational tools is that they help us plan our time, keep track of our ideas and structure our thinking into clear plans and documents. These management tools help all of us and are particularly helpful to those among us who struggle to assimilate concepts and make clear are a number of tools available that can make us more productive in our working days. I use the two the above but there are many alternative organisational tools. The university has a site license for MindView and it is compatible with Windows or Mac, but not mobile devices. Other mind mapping tools, such as Mindmeister and can be used on mobile devices but do not have the advantage of converting to Word or PowerPoint.

You can find more useful digital tools in our A-Z of apps.

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TEL:US Podcast: Daniel Hajas

TEL:US Podcast logo.

Daniel Hajas is a PHD Student at the University of Sussex, working
multisensory experiences, with special emphasis on the topic of using mid-air haptic interfaces for science communication in the Sussex Human Computer Interaction lab.

As part of our Digital Accessibility series I caught up with Daniel about his experience of losing his sight at age 17. A crucial time in education and just as he was planning his university journey. Daniel talks about his experience of this, the challenges and how he was supported, along with some tools he uses. Daniel finishes by giving some great advice. Check it out on Spotify below. Or subscribe and listen on Apple Podcasts or Anchor.FM


How it was made

Each time i record a podcast, I do something different. Still trying to find the right tools or the easiest tools for the job. It’s also quite fun playing around with different combinations of tech. So from here on in, until I settle on a preferred set up I will list (in brief) the tools and workflow I used.

For this show:

  • Twin lapel mic and iPad for interview
  • Record into app for iOS
  • Export audio to GarageBand to try and fix audio
  • Record host intro and outro with Blue Snowball and MacBook Pro into GarageBand
  • Build show in GarageBand
  • Export to
Banner. Click to subscribe to TEL:US Podcast on iTunes.
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Conference tweeting – some tips and tricks

Twitter is a great companion for academic conferences – before, during and after the event, the micro-blogging platform can expand and deepen the experience. This post offers some ideas for making the most of Twitter at your next conference.

Building a conference community with a hashtag #

If you are organising a conference, make sure you have a good hashtag and share it widely. Here are some things to think about when choosing a hashtag:

  • Search Twitter to see that your preferred hashtag is not already in use.
  • Keep it short and simple – for example, we used #SussexDDW for Digital Discovery Week.
  • If yours is an annual event think about adding the year to the hashtag – such as the British Educational Research Association’s #BERA19.
  • Use ‘CamelCase’ to capitalise words in your hashtag to make it accessible – like this #EachWordCaps
  • Add the hashtag to the conference programme and any promotional materials.
  • Tweet early and often, from the call for papers through to registration and the programme. This will raise awareness of the hashtag and encourage its use.

If you are attending a conference, check out the hashtag in advance so you can join in the conversation.


On the day there are likely to be some people ‘live-tweeting’, that is, reporting on the conference as it happens by tweeting. You might want to join in, so here is the etiquette around conference tweeting:

  • Ask permission – unless organisers or presenters have explicitly said it is okay to tweet about what is being presented.
  • Only tweet photos of people if you have explicit permission from them.
  • Always attribute quotes – preferably using the speaker’s Twitter name (handle).
  • Always include the conference hashtag.
  • Remember tweets are completely public – so be polite and professional.

Live tweeting from a conference can be an engrossing activity and you may be wondering how to find time to tweet whilst listening and making notes. I use Twitter as my note-making system at conferences. I tweet the key messages I want to take away and if others make good points or ask interesting questions I want to think about later I ‘like’ or retweet them. At the end of the event I have a collection of tweets that sums up the event for me.

For more on how to tweet at conferences see:

Developing the conversation

For those attending an event, Twitter provides an additional space for interaction and networking. Delegates can compare notes about parallel sessions, continue discussions and develop the conversation by linking to related resources.

If you cannot be at the event, following a conference hashtag is a great way of participating remotely. It is also good to bring other voices into conference conversations (see ‘Being there – or not?’). As this visualization of the tweets using a particular conference hashtag shows, there can be varying degrees of interaction. This conference had 150 delegates attending, but the visualisation shows nearly 3 times that many nodes – each representing a unique user using the hashtag on the day of the conference.

Visualization of the tweets at the #OpenBadgesHE conference in March 2016 via Martin Hawksey’s tagsexplorer

If you are speaking at a conference, you might want to consider sharing your slides on Twitter at the start of your session to engage this wider audience. Free tools such as Hootsuite and Buffer will let you schedule your tweets in advance.   

Curating and sharing conference tweets

After the event you may want to gather tweets (yours and other people’s) together and present them in a more structured way. If you have been using Twitter as your note-making tool then this will be particularly important. It can also be a great way to build a resource that can be saved and shared.

Twitter has its Moments tool which allows you to do this (only available on, not mobile apps). When creating a Moment you can include tweets:

  • from specific accounts
  • that you have ‘liked’
  • from a search for a word or hashtag
  • by adding a link.

Here is a Twitter Moment with a few @SussexTEL tweets and retweets.

If you want to collect more than just tweets, you might like to try Wakelet, which lets you collect and share a wide range of digital content such as:

  • a website
  • tweets (selected by searching for a hashtag or user)
  • a YouTube video
  • an image
  • links to content you have already used in Wakelet
  • a PDF
  • some text of your own, including some simple formatting and weblinks.

Wakelets can be set as private, unlisted (where only people with the link can see it) or public and are easily shareable to a range of social media platforms or as a link.

Here is an example of a Wakelet collection showing these different types of content.

If you want any help using Twitter or Wakelet for teaching and learning please contact

This is an update to the 2016 post Conference Tweeting and Storify.

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Posted in App review, Social media

Poll Everywhere UK User Group Event 2019

The fourth annual Poll Everywhere UK User Group Event was held on Thursday 11th April 2019 at the University of Liverpool. This year’s User Group focused on the theme of ‘Increasing student engagement’ and was attended by around 60 delegates from higher education institutions across the UK.

The morning featured four presentations from academics using Poll Everywhere at different universities around the UK. Speakers’ presentations addressed a variety of different themes including gamification, engagement and feedback. This year’s presenters were:

  • Dr. Rosamond Watling, Regent’s University – Enabling and empowering students using open-ended questions.
  • Gustavo Espinoza-Ramos, University of Westminster – From the transmission to the connectivism module of learning: The use of Poll Everywhere to promote student engagement in the digital age.
  • Agnes Grondin, Middlesex University London – Revision Lectures revamped with Poll Everywhere Competitions.
  • Dr. Pete Smith, University of Liverpool – Closing the Loop.

These presentations were then followed by a question and answer session with all of the speakers, giving them time to answer audience questions and discuss their experiences. During this session audience questions were collected using (of course!) a Poll Everywhere Q&A question which was left running in the background during the presentations. This enabled questions to be captured throughout the presentations and then addressed at the end, allowing for all speakers to contribute to each question, whilst also allowing attendees to view each other’s questions.

After lunch, the afternoon kicked off with a presentation from Brain Goodman, Poll Everywhere Product Manager, who told us all about the newest Poll Everywhere features. As well as ongoing accessibility improvements, Poll Everywhere updates include:

  • A new presenter app
  • Activity flows
  • Competition updates e.g. remove question time limits to improve inclusivity
  • QR codes – students scan QR code as an alternative to typing out the response URL
  • Student can now export their response history

This was followed by a Poll Everywhere ‘World Cafe’, during which participants were invited to visit different tables and discuss various topics with colleagues. Areas of interest were collected via Poll Everywhere before the event and each table was then assigned a theme based on the responses:

  1. Technical
  2. Pedagogical approaches
  3. Getting started, implementation and engagement
  4. Practical tips on teaching with Poll Everywhere
  5. The student experience

Delegates then moved between these tables, selecting which table they would visit based on their interests and experience using Poll Everywhere.

To finish off the day we were treated to a tour of the University of Liverpool campus during which we met the resident dab fish, were shown some replica cave paintings and flint weapons, given a walking tour of the nearby university buildings and visited the local pub!

Dab fish
Dab fish

If you would like to learn more about the Poll Everywhere UK User Group or would like to attend a future event visit If you’re a member of University of Sussex staff and you would like to start using Poll Everywhere in your teaching please contact

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We are the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

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